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October 17, 2008STORRS, Conn. - Homecoming weekend has taken on a different meaning for Donald Brown.
UConn's junior running back returns to his home state Saturday against Rutgers (noon, ESPNU) for the last time as a member of the Huskies, an event that would not have drawn as much attention if this was just another year for Brown.
But it isn't.
Instead, Brown returns to New Jersey with the chance to spoil Rutgers' alumni weekend festivities and continue doing what no other UConn running back has ever done. Already the national leader with 177.8 rushing yards per game, Brown is on pace to set school records in rushing touchdowns, rushing yards and rushing attempts this season.
If that wasn't enough, the native of Atlantic Highlands, N.J., a small town located 30 miles away from Rutgers, has also forced his way onto the list of midseason contenders for the Heisman Trophy.
None of this seemed possible even last season when Brown, hampered by a lingering ankle injury, followed up a breakthrough freshman year by splitting carries with fellow New Jersey native Andre Dixon.
He's taken that opportunity and done what any other elite running back would do: run with it.
"It just gets me excited thinking about everything," Brown said.
A standout at Red Bank Catholic, Brown rushed for over 2,000 yards as a senior, scored 27 touchdowns and earned a plethora of all-area and all-conference honors. Despite the accolades, he was recruited more by colleges as a defensive back than a running back, and he freely admits that a large part of his vitriol is directed toward Rutgers for lightly recruiting him.
He's made the Scarlet Knights pay. Brown made his first career start in Piscataway two years ago, rushing for 199 yards and two touchdowns as the Huskies came up short, 24-13. Even in a down year in 2007, Brown managed to rush for 154 yards and a touchdown, spurring the Huskies to a 38-19 win at Rentschler Field.
What Brown does the third time remains to be seen. The numbers appear to be in his favor: the Rutgers defense has allowed opponents to gain an average of 156.5 yards per game on the ground - a number that is second-worst in the conference.
Though Brown already has a lot to be excited about, his teammates have noticed that swagger and confidence grow as the contest draws near.
"Every year he runs for like 300 yards in a game, so he definitely treats it different," said defensive end Cody Brown.
With over 100 people expected to be in attendance to support the running back - Brown said nearly 75 people have made plans to drop by his family's tailgate - the only thing needed is a win.
Brown wasn't so fortunate to get one in 2006, which he said ruined his memories of his first start. With the 5-1 Huskies seeking bowl eligibility in their second Big East game, there's a chance this one could be a lot sweeter.
"It's exciting going back home to Jersey and getting the chance to play in front of friends and family again," Brown said. "I'm excited."